Snapdragon GN
Publisher: First Second Books
Release Date: February 5, 2020
Price: $12.99 (TP)/$21.99 (HC)
Creator: Kat Leyh
Format: 240 pgs., Full Color, 5.5"x8", Trade Paperback/Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-250-17111-5 (TP) / 978-1-250-17112-2 (HC)
Age Rating: 10-14
ICv2 Rating: 5 Stars out of 5

Snapdragon puts a Southern Gothic take on the teenage witch story, bringing together witchcraft and working folks with more roadkill than you usually see in a middle-grade graphic novel.

Snapdragon, usually known as Snap, is a feisty little girl.  She’s a good kid, and a big help to her single mom, but she just doesn’t fit in, especially at school.  Jacks is a feisty old lady with an eyepatch, and everyone in town says she is a witch.  When Snap rescues a litter of orphaned possums, she brings them to Jacks, and the older woman agrees to care for them as long as Snap helps her with her work.  This is where an already weird story gets weirder: Jacks goes out with a wheelbarrow and spade and scoops up roadkill, then buries the animals until nothing is left but their bones.  Then she digs them up, puts the bones back together, and sells the reassembled skeletons on the internet.

Once she gets over being grossed out, Snap comes to appreciate the beauty of what Jacks is doing, especially once Jacks explains that she claps her hands over each animal to set their spirits free.  Sometimes those spirits linger, and they watch over the humans that were kind to them.  When Snap starts seeing these animal ghosts, Jacks reveals that she really is a witch, and that Snap has the power as well.

Snapdragon is the sort of graphic novel that immerses you in a whole world of its own. Snap and her mom live in a trailer park.  Her mom isn’t around much because she’s working and going to school.  Snap has one friend, Louis, who lives nearby and transitions to Lulu in the course of the story with a minimum of fuss.  Snap’s dog Good Boy, who has recently lost a leg, scampers around doing doggy things, and no one is bothered by the missing leg except his former owner (and Snap’s mother’s former boyfriend) Chuck.  Chuck is a bad dude, and when he tries to snatch Good Boy back, he unleashes the wrath, and magic, of both Snap and Jacks.

Leyh is the creator of the queer-superheroes comic Supercakes and has contributed to BOOM! Studios’ Lumberjanes, Adventure Time, and Steven Universe comics.  You can see a bit of that vibe in her art, which has a similar modern-cartoony sensibility.  Her characters bristle with life, and she draws the backwoods setting so well you can just about feel the humidity.  Snapdragon is a dense story with a lot of twists, and Leyh’s pacing is perfect, moving the story forward in a way that feels very natural but keeps the reader turning pages.  It’s well worth reading more than once, as she drops little breadcrumbs along the way, bits of foreshadowing that don’t seem out of place at the time but become more significant later in the story.

Snapdragon is a perfect choice for fans of other witch stories such as Molly Ostertag’s Witch Boy and Emma Steinkellner’s The Okay Witch.  Like those stories, it mixes magic with daily life and focuses on characters who defy the standard categories.  Snap’s enthusiasm and the animal ghosts will resonate with readers who liked Lumberjanes, and (this is a spoiler) it would also be a good pick for fans of Tee Franklin’s Bingo Love or Colleen AF Venable and Ellen Crenshaw’s Kiss Number 8.  It should be said that there are scenes of dead animals and animal skeletons in this story, which some readers may find disturbing.  (On the other hand, many middle-graders revel in the disgusting.)  It’s not exploitative, though.  Just the opposite: Snapdragon is a story of mutual love and respect, and in this story, that extends to animals as well as people.

-- Brigid Alverson